Under the Covers: The Truth about Sex in the US

Under the Covers (2006), on which iconic erotic film director Candida Royalle collaborated with sex educator JamYe WaXman, is an intriguing porn film in particular for how it touches on the wide specter of attitudes to sex in the United States today. We meet a young newlywed couple struggling with shyness when it comes to sex (she in particular), and a female sex therapist who is, on the other hand, quite self-sufficient and pro-active when it comes to pleasuring herself with various sex toys and finding sexual partners online.

Interviewed for a television special about women who are changing the way we think about sex, the therapist explains how she works with her clients, before escorting the reporter to a women-owned sex shop where she discusses the benefits of sex toys to women, echoing masturbation activist Betty Dodson. While expressing great interest in the therapist’s explanation of various vibrators’ functionalities, the journalist is too sheepish to discuss her own favorites (“oh gosh, no, not me; my girlfriends have vibrators, but ¦).

Refusing the journalist’s pleas for an interview, on the other hand, wanting nothing to do with a program that has anything to do with sex, is a certain Monica Young “ a spoof on Erica Jong. In her first novel, Fear of Flying (1973), Jong coined the “zipless fuck to describe sex for its own sake, between strangers: “pure sex free of emotional involvement or commitment.

The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not “taking and the woman is not “giving. No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is.

Resonating at the time with women unhappy with their marriages, many set out to discover free sex for themselves. In recent times, Jong has surprised her followers, however, by arguing, on the one hand, that now young women want motherhood and monogamy, while she bemoans, on the other hand, the lack of real relationships with people turning to the Internet for “simulated sex without intimacy, without identity and without fear of infection. When “physical pleasure binds two people together and lets them endure the inevitable pains and losses of being human. In Under the Covers, we eventually discover that Monica Young in fact has a thing for kink: specifically bondage-play where she is the dominatrix and group sex. At a sex party in the film’s concluding scene, Ms. Young and her husband end up having sex with the reporter; ostensibly there “undercover for her story.

The film also features a young woman who has pledged her virginity to “Virgins until the Vow. Fanatic about her anti-porn, anti-sex, and anti-masturbation position, she is working undercover for this virginity pledge organization at named sex shop. Under the Covers humorously captures how she ultimately succumbs to desire, trying out different sex toys in the backroom after discussing some of the shop’s merchandise with the sex therapist. The scene is poignant for there is nothing funny about the movement of virginity pledge programs with their abstinence-until-married trinkets. Pushed for by the same forces that ensured thirty years of federal promotion and funding support for abstinence-only programs, it has fed pubertal hang-ups and warped ideas about sex. After taking office, President Obama has cut most of these funds and introduced new funding initiatives to more effective sex education. It remains to be seen what these positive steps will lead to, however; most schools in the US continue to deprive their students of the benefits of comprehensive human sexuality education.

Though Under the Covers is not as successful cinematically as Candida’s other films (the acting is a bit stiff, and the lighting and sound quality not as good), it wins in realism, and sex pedagogical and political commitment addressing both sexual complexes and the cultural hypocrisy in the US towards sex. The film begins with the young couple who’ve consulted said sex therapist about how to become more comfortable with each other when it comes to sex, especially oral sex. They were both virgins when they married and struggle with insecurities in their sex life; he also worries about the size of his penis.

The sex therapist helps him see that the quality of the sex he has with his wife has nothing to do with his penis size, and all about what they do together. She recommends they watch some adult films that also appeal to women and that show loving couples engaging in oral sex since that’s a particular issue for them. And she also gives them the assignment to create their own erotic home video to help them become more playful and adventurous with one another. It is this video that they’re about to make in the film’s opening scene. We see them in their bedroom, alternately through their own video camera that they have set up and through the camera operator’s camera. The scenario is realistic: the energy between the two lovers tentative, a bit apprehensive, but also tender and adoring.

(This post is an excerpt from my book After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters, forthcoming fall 2012.)

Quizzical Mama

Quizzical mama, aka Anne G. Sabo, PhD, is a former academic turned public educator, author, speaker, freelance writer, and mama- and sex blogger. Her book After Pornified: How Women Are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters (Zer0 Books, October 2012) has been called “a goldmine for all sex-positive women and men,” and a “candid, well-informed personal story of how a good girl became involved in porn." She writes mores about progressive porn and sex-positivity in her New porn by women blog and at her resource site Love, Sex, and Family, and she muses about life and parenting in her Quizzical mama blog. She lives in Northfield, Minnesota, a small college town just south of the Twin Cities, with her spouse and their preschooler daughter. You can follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @quizzicalmama.

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